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You must spend THIS MUCH on an engagement ring

You’ve found the perfect partner and want to propose.


Now you need a symbol of affection and connection. A symbol of your glorious lives together. A physical reminder of shared affection and commitment. For most people that means a ring.

Couples first gave each other rings (actually circlets of braided papyrus and reeds) in ancient Egypt nearly 6,000 years ago. The rings were placed on each others’ 4th fingers, because that finger has a vein they believed was directly connected to the heart. Adopted by many cultures over time, the exchange of wedding rings is one of mankind’s oldest and strongest traditions.

Image courtesy of DeBeers

“A diamond is forever”

In 1947 a Philadelphia ad agency partnered with De Beers to launch the famous slogan.

The logic ~

  • Being ancient, a diamond represents eternal love and commitment
  • Being hard, a diamond reflects a relationship’s strength and resolve
  • Being valuable, a diamond is a monetary commitment from the proposer to the intended
  • Being beautiful, a diamond is the perfect motif for a beautiful life together

The idea of a diamond engagement ring was appealing to recipients as a form of insurance against (or compensation for) a broken engagement. And, for the proposer, a diamond sparkling on the wearer’s ring finger proclaimed “no longer available” to competing suitors.

Possibly the most successful marketing campaign in history, the diamond tradition has not only endured, it’s grown from a U.S.A. tradition to one that is now practiced around the world.

Wait a minute. Diamonds cost how much?!

Photo by Ben White

Consider that it takes abundant expense and labor to bring diamonds to market. The majority of volcanic pipes containing diamonds are found in some of the world’s most remote and underdeveloped areas. The value chain begins with mining, curating, sorting and cutting prior to polished diamonds ever being graded by gemological institutes, and finally coming to wholesalers and retailers.

It’s the journey from mine to market, not perceived rarity, which actually brings the high price tag.

Thanks to the internet, consumers now have tremendous information about diamonds, value and sellers at their disposal. And thanks to reputable grading institutes, consumers can be certain in the authenticity of their purchase. But the average engagement ring still costs as much as a decent used car. This causes sticker shock for many first time shoppers, who then re-visit their imagined budget.

So how much should I spend?

Let’s examine some common advice.

The salary rule

The “salary rule” is nearly a century old. Diamond sales suffered badly during the depression, so jewelry professionals in the 1930s were trained to set the expectation that a month’s salary was the proper amount to spend on a diamond engagement ring. Over time that amount grew to two-months’ salary and, in some places, three-months’ salary. Considering how many buyers followed that rule it may be considered a successful guideline which keeps engagement-spending somewhat uniform among couples in similar social circles. With that said, it was invented by the diamond industry. You can compare it to religious guidelines suggesting how much salary you should tithe. Whether the advice comes from your church, your jeweler – or your intended’s mother – it’s somebody else’s theoretical benchmark. It needn’t be yours.

The age rule

Another concept that makes the rounds is dividing the recipient’s age by 10 to know appropriate carat weight. This is wholly impractical for young couples, since every bride over 20 years old would need a 2-carat diamond. As such, it’s more commonly suggested to suitors working on second marriages or chasing affluent brides. It’s also suggested to couples considering an anniversary diamond upgrade. After all, a girl married with a smaller diamond ten years ago surely deserves a 3-carat diamond now that she’s in her 30s… Doesn’t she? And will someone please forward this rule to my husband?

There’s an app for that

You can find dozens of engagement budget calculators online. They range from simple to complex to clever to bizarre. Most of them weigh your income, debt and spending habits to suggest a budget. Others consider lifestyle, hobbies and travel-habits. Yet others ask if someone may already be pregnant, and even weigh your appearance against her expectations.


While more personalized than the salary or age rules, these calculators also apply someone else’s philosophy to your circumstances.

What are others doing?

An annual survey by The Knot, drawing on 8,882 respondents around the U.S.A., suggests that the average engagement ring spend in 2019 was $5,900. That’s down from an average of $6,351 two years ago, but notably up from $5,095 back in 2011. The amount does vary by region. In 2019 Midwest couples had the lowest average spend at $5,300, whereas Mid-Atlantic couples reported the highest average spend at $7,500. And while $5,900 was the national average a third of all respondents fell into the $1,000-$3,000 range and 10% spent less than $1,000. On the other side of the scale, engagement ring spending tends to increase quite a bit with higher incomes.

A diamond is (still) forever

Among those surveyed, 83% chose a diamond engagement ring. The survey didn’t mention laboratory-grown diamonds, but there is ongoing buzz about laboratory-grown diamonds in the marketplace. Those conversations may be stimulating sales of diamond simulants, since Moissanite has nearly doubled in popularity between 2017 and 2019. Other alternatives include colored stones and plain metal bands. But for reasons which are perfectly logical a natural diamond is still the undisputed champion of engagements and weddings.

Image by Rik Langfield

You must spend THIS MUCH…

Forget salary, age, apps and whatnot. There are no actual rules for what you MUST SPEND on an engagement ring. Only you know your specific circumstances and resources.

Before you take the plunge I urge you to consider two critical items.

1. Your intended’s expectations
2. Your financial situation

The goal is finding harmony between the two.

Your intended’s expectations

Diamond? Shape of diamond? Solitaire ring? Halo ring? Some other ring? Platinum? White gold? Yellow gold? Rose gold?

And that’s not all. “Your intended’s expectations” should include spending philosophy. Before you take irregular action – such as emptying your savings or taking on debt – consider whether that could make your partner feel guilty. Or angry. Financial distress is a homewrecker. Getting engaged shouldn’t bring stress or discomfort into your lives.

Your financial situation

Calculate your current monthly income against debt. Determine what is constant, forecast the future and make a reasonable plan. If you have nothing saved, calculate a monthly amount you can comfortably apply – whether you use credit now or save up to pay cash. On the other hand, if you’re flush and like to spend big on your own hobbies and toys, you may want to reflect the same approach in your engagement ring purchase. When planning, remember that you may also have wedding and honeymoon expenses ahead.

Do your homework

Before you pop “THE” question you might consider polling your intended partner. This doesn’t have to be a full proposal confession, you can tease with hypothetical “ifs” and “what do you thinks” to learn tastes and expectations. If you prefer a more stoic approach consider enlisting her family or friends to help you.

A helpful side effect of the collaborative process is knowing for certain, in advance, what the answer will be when you pop the question.

The only drawback is perhaps tipping your hand, somewhat. But in my experience this has never dampened the excitement and passion of the actual moment.

And the time and place you choose for your proposal can always be a surprise!

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